If the opinions of those who posted in this thread on this site's message boards in 2004 are anything to go by, it was pretty surprising that Art Brut ever managed to actually make a full album in the first place. Now that they are embarking on their fourth full-lengther, I can’t even begin to imagine the depths of amazement currently being experienced by those who doubted the band's longevity. Not that I was any different, mind you. As enjoyable as their earliest pop thrills were, I’d be lying if I suggested that I expected them to still be around in 2011.
Yet here they remain, and ientirely on merit, because they’ve continued to knock out album after album of the same kind of effortless, sardonic guitar pop that caused all that kerfuffle in the first place. In a lot of ways, Brilliant! Tragic! is fairly typical Art Brut fare. ‘Clever Clever Jazz’ and ‘Martin Kemp Welch Five-a-Side’ for instance, could sit pretty easily on any of their previous records, while ‘Bad Comedian’s hipster-baiting pay-offs "He dresses like he came free with the NME" and "I bet he signs his name in Comic Sans" are straight out of The Bumper Book of Eddie Argos One Liners.
But although the record is still unmistakably Art Brut, there’s also much more progression and experimentation than we’ve seen from the band before. The biggest and most obvious difference is in Eddie’s delivery, because, apparently with the aid of producer Black Francis, he has learned to sing (kind of). It’s unclear why a man who once so proudly and defiantly announced his singing voice to us has decided, four albums in, to change his style so fundamentally, and it doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, it produces some of his most memorable moments yet. The album’s ambitious six minute centre-point ‘Is Dog Eared’ illustrates this pretty neatly within the one song, with the weird, half-whisper, half-growl of the the early choruses falling a little flat, but the howls with which Eddie hauls the song to its conclusion recalling PiL-era John Lydon.
Schooling Eddie in the art of singing isn’t the only way in which Black Francis’ finger prints are evident on Brilliant! Tragic! The album is characterised by meatier-than-usual riffs, including some particularly filthy sounds on ‘Axl Rose’, which you would imagine have to have at least something to do with its producer. The whole record, in fact, is strong in that regard, with near enough every song exhilarating in its melodic noisiness. I’d say that’s also one of the reasons why Art Brut haven’t ever really gone stale, because with or without Black Francis, they’ve always been pretty natty with a pop tune.
Nobody is suggesting that Brilliant! Tragic! isn’t a flawed album, but it is also one which delivers some of the richest, fullest thrills of Art Brut’s career. The leaps of faith the band have taken have been roundly vindicated, and (although they most certainly don’t need to), go some way to justify their continued existence. Although it is always likely to be their fate to be defined (unfairly) by ‘Formed a Band’ and the Top of the Pops obsession of yore, it now feels like they’re finally beginning to be able to move on from their history a little. Given that absolutely nobody ever expected them to outlive TOTP, I reckon they’ve definitely earned that right.
7Paul Brown's Score